Saturday, May 29, 2010

SpaceX Targets June 4 for Falcon 9 Launch

Falcon 9's March engine test at Cape Canaveral (SpaceX)

The private sector will gain new ground in the advancement of space flight as a future rocket destined for trips to the International Space Station prepares for it's inaugural launch next week.

A private company known as SpaceX was approved by NASA in 2008 to develop their Falcon 9 rocket in support of lofting an unmanned cargo craft to the space station and human space flights in a few years.

Scheduled for launch no earlier than June 4, the Falcon 9 will carry a dummy test payload which will double for the Dragon resupply craft. An official launch announcement could come as early as Monday afternoon.

The 180-foot tall Falcon will use nine Merlin 1C main engines as it rises from launch complex 40 here at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and arcs out over the Atlantic waters.

Each Merlin 1C is fueled by a mixture of liquid oxygen and kerosene, and will burn for nearly the first three minutes of ascent.

The first stage will then separate and the second stage's single engine will begin it's five minute burn.

SpaceX reminded this reporter that both the first and second stages are reusable, and following splash down can be recovered for a future flight.

On March 13, the launch team performed a successful test firing of it's nine main engines for nearly four seconds.

A Falcon 9 is rated to carry as much as 23,050 pounds into low earth orbit, and up to 10,000 pounds into geostationary orbit.

NASA is watching over the shoulder of SpaceX as the space agency looks at using private companies in launching their astronauts and supplies to the Space Station.

Currently NASA has a contract with the Russian Space Agency in which American astronauts will use their Soyuz to reach earth's orbital outpost. NASA's direction under the Obama administration is to privatize space flight so that American's can ride their own vehicle's into earth orbit in the next two years beginning with Falcon 9.

The NASA directed Constellation program was scaled back to a lighter version of the Orion crew module, and will likely begin flying no earlier than 2015 from Kennedy Space Center.

A second Falcon 9 launch is targeted for this Fall, and based on a successful flight in June, will deploy the Dragon C1 for a multi-hour flight in earth orbit.

The nearly ten-foot high Dragon is a capsule styled module designed to carry several tons of supplies to station; and according to the company's founder Elon Musk will begin carrying as many as seven astronauts into orbit by 2013.

Former space shuttle and space station expedition astronaut Ken Bowersox will oversee the astronaut training from the Florida launch site.

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